Thursday, March 06, 2014

Perspectives VI: Failing the Task of the Preacher

Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such
we will incur a stricter judgment. (James 3:1, NASB)

  Something has been troubling me for years. The state of preaching the Word of God today often leaves me in a state of melancholy. I have spent countless hours wrestling with my own thoughts about this particular issue. Having listened to various preachers-in three different countries-try to teach the Bible has left me wondering where this whole enterprise went wrong. The task of the preacher is twofold: 1) to correctly interpret the text of Scripture; and 2) to apply the text in a way that is relevant to the audience and is borne out of the correct interpretation of the text. The task of preaching is usually failed by either being too focused on interpretation, thus being more like a Bible study or lecture, or by being too focused on application.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Real Stories III: A Revealing Dialogue

Last night at Southern Evangelical Seminary, there was a dialogue between Dr. Michael Brown and Dr. James Tabor over the question 'whether Paul transformed Christianity'. Dr. Tabor recently authored a book titled 'Paul and Jesus: How the Apostle Transformed Christianity'. The following post is simply a reflection on some of the things that occurred during last night's discussion. I wasn't entirely sure where to put this post, and since it was something that actually took place and I was there for it, I decided to put it in the 'real stories' section of this blog.

What stood out to me immediately was the attitude Tabor had towards conservative scholarship. As Dr. Brown asked him why he seemingly ignored a broad range of scholars concerning certain facts–particularly about the dating of particular books–Dr. Tabor responded with a remark to the effect that evangelical scholars really don't count in the sum total of serious scholarship. This was in keeping with his approach throughout the entire discussion. Dr. Tabor admitted at the front end that he has several points of departure from the consensus of scholars (at least those that he would admit to being scholars). This opened the door to an appropriate question during the Q+A time. The question, asked by Dr. J. T. Bridges of Southern Evangelical Seminary, was how Dr. Tabor decides when to break from consensus and when to stand by consensus. His answer was that we need to take it on a case-by-case basis. Which leads me to want to ask him why he dismisses conservative scholarship outright if we should be looking at things on a case-by-case basis? The points that Dr. Brown was making–when he wasn't being interrupted–were consistently dismissed by Dr. Tabor. It seems to me that he is not consistent with his own methodology.

The second thing that stood out to me was the similarity between what Dr. Tabor was promoting and what Robert Eisenman writes about. There is a lot of similarity between the two, including the radical disjunction between what Paul taught and what Jesus taught, the directing influence of Paul on Christianity away from the traditional apostolic teaching, the dismissal of Lucan literature (Luke-Acts) from giving accurate descriptions of the apostles, and the original Christianity being found in sects like the Ebionites and Nazarenes.1 After the dialogue I asked Dr. Tabor if he was aware of the work of Robert Eisenman and whether or not he had any influence of the former's work. His face lit up at the mention of Eisenman, and he responded that they are in fact good friends. He denied that Eisenman had any influence on his work. His answer confirmed for me the connections that I thought I saw earlier. I now am considering studying this further and demonstrating the connections between the two.

All in all the night was very productive. It gave a good glimpse of how difficult it is for an evangelical to be heard in the broader academic community. There is an attitude that exists that if someone is evangelical, he/she must be biased toward current academic issues. What those who demonstrate this attitude overlook is their own bias toward certain tendencies. The areas of importance that were highlighted for me were: the critical approach taken by current scholarship,2 the dating of the books of Scripture, textual criticism, and early church history. These are all areas which affected the dialogue last night, and which we would do well to be acquainted with.

With my synopsis and reflections complete, I would like to point out that I appreciated both of these gentlemen taking the time to do this. It was a fruitful time. I respect Dr. Tabor for being willing to enter a 'hostile' environment, by doing an event at an evangelical seminary. I was impressed by the breadth of knowledge that Dr. Brown demonstrated, and found his knowledge to be a challenge to myself, that I need to be more broadly aware of certain topics. I would encourage any of you interested in these kinds of issues to attend as many discussions/debates you can. Southern Evangelical Seminary often sponsors these kinds of events, so watch out for them.3

1I treated some of these issues in my response to Paul Oh, which is posted on this blog. You can find it here: Perspectives III.

2I deal with this issue in a paper on the documentary hypothesis. I have not posted this paper, but may do so in the future.

3You can find information about future events at the Southern Evangelical Seminary website.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Melting Pot IV: 6 Years!

My wife and I just celebrated our 6th anniversary. I can confidently state that I am definitely not the man I thought I would be 6 years ago, and marriage is really nothing like what I expected it to be. I used to think of marriage as being a way to serve my needs, all the time being admired and adored by my wife. I think that's how I entered marriage. I didn't realize it at the time, but I had a definite idea of what a wife should do and what a husband should do. I had no clue how fluid a marriage really is. I had no clue about a lot of things. . .

Perhaps the thing that surprised me the most was that love just isn't enough––at least my understanding of what love is. My wife and I love each other deeply. Yet there were times when we were so frustrated with each other that we could barely be in the same room together. The problem is that love, so far as the emotion of it goes, comes and goes. What I've learned is that love is something much deeper than just a feeling of desire for someone. In Aquinas love is said to be willing the good for some one or thing. To love my wife means that I will the good for her. This helps me when I reflect on what it means when I say 'I love you' to my wife (and also to my children, and other familial relations). To say 'I love you' is to say 'I desire you to be in possession of the good'. That means that I'm concerned to know what the good is for the person I'm declaring my love to.

To love my wife, then, is to be concerned with knowing what it is that will bring her joy. Ultimately all joy is found in the contemplation of God, so in a sense to show love for my wife is to encourage her to contemplate God. This does not mean that I am to try to make our marriage exist on a different plane, though. There are other goods that contribute to the well-being and happiness of my wife. Providing for the material needs of my family is an important way to show love for them.

These rambling thoughts are my way of confirming to myself what it is that I think I've learned about love over the last 6 years. For more than 2 decades I was primarily concerned with possessing 'the good' myself. I sought for the things that I judged to be good, to take possession of them and be characterized by them. These last 6 years have taught me that love is not a desire to be fulfilled by a relationship with someone. That is something else. Love is desiring the object of love to enjoy 'the good'. Seeking the joy and happiness of the one loved over and above my personal desires. And even more than this, but having the joy and happiness of the one loved be a cause for joy and happiness in me.

Marriage has been an entirely different animal than what I thought it would be when I entered into it. There have been some difficult times in the last 6 years. But there have also been some exceedingly great times as well. My wife has been a teacher for me in many ways, constantly teaching me about myself. The love that I share with my wife is not one that is fleeting, the hard times have shown me that. The love that we share is rooted in a deep commitment to one another. This next year I hope that I can grow in demonstrating my love for my wife. It is my desire that my wife be in the possession of 'the good'. The things that make her happy are the things that I want her to enjoy. To know my wife is to know what her desires are, to know the things that she judges to be good. To love my wife is to desire those things for her.*

*I am not saying that everything my wife desires is something that she should have. I'm not promoting a reckless 'partner-centered hedonism'. What I've left unsaid is that the things that she judges to be good, which will not be a hindrance to her growth and maturity, are the things that I want to see her be in possession of. I felt the need to give this brief addendum in anticipation of all 6 concerned readers of this blog.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Perspectives V

Reflections on the Truth Project: Philosophy

I've been a part of several group studies which participated in Focus on the Family's the Truth Project, with Dr. Del Tackett as the instructor. Recently we have begun to do this study as a men's study at the local fellowship I am a part of. This is the first time I have participated in the study since beginning to pursue an advanced degree in philosophy, and I thought it might be beneficial to record some brief reflections on the 'philosophy and ethics' lesson in the Truth Project. I am recording this to serve my friends and family who may have participated or may participate in the future in one of these studies. I don't anticipate that anyone outside of my small circle of acquaintances will read this. That being said, if you are reading this and we are not personally acquainted, I want you to know that this brief reflection is not meant to criticize and attack, but to give some perspective on a topic that is not very familiar for those whom I hold dear.